Monthly Archives: September 2014

Evangelical Heresies: Marcionism Part 1

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.

“That’s Old Testament!” How often have we heard that sentence uttered by somebody involved in a theological discussion? Taken at face value, it is a very simple statement. The speaker is asserting his knowledge with respect to which of the two testaments a particular passage is coming from. Although the assertion could possibly be of interest to the discussion and you might want to take a moment to interrupt the speaker and compliment him on his awareness of the location of the passage, I doubt that the mere recognition of the location of the passage is what is intended by the assertion.

When Evangelicals say that something is “in the Old Testament”, what they are really saying is a rather detailed hidden argument about their desire to not have to bother with the verse that has been cited. The argument goes something like this:

Premise # 1: The God of the Old Testament was vindictive and full of wrath and vengeance.

Premise # 2: The God of the Old Testament did not have a fully developed doctrine of love.

Premise # 3: Jesus came in the New Testament to change the nature of the relationship of man with God from one based on wrath to one based on love.

Premise # 4: Things said by the God of the Old Testament do not necessarily reflect the true nature of God in the New Testament.

Conclusion # 1: We are free to ignore the law of God, recorded in the Pentateuch, because we are under grace, not law. (Also known as antinomianism.)

Conclusion # 2: We are free to ignore the historical record of the Old Testament as far as ascertaining any information about the character and nature of God because He has changed from vengeful and angry to merciful and loving.

Conclusion # 3: We are free to ignore all of the imprecatory Psalms because they were founded upon a doctrine of love that was incomplete, undeveloped, and simply wrong from the perspective of the New Testament. (See my essay “Selective Biblicism” for more information.)

Conclusion # 4: We are free to ignore all of the prophetic passages in the Old Testament if they are based upon this faulty view of God as primarily angry and full of wrath.

Hence, when the assertion is made that a passage is “in the Old Testament”, what is being said is, “I am free to ignore all of the logical and theological implications of that passage because it is based upon a doctrine of the nature and character of God that has changed. It is in the New Testament, where I find the God of love, that I choose to look for my doctrine of the nature and character of God. Therefore, any appeals to the Old Testament are going to be summarily rejected as irrelevant to the discussion at hand.”

The Immutability of God:

The Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 2, paragraph 1) says, “There is but one only living and true god, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory;”

In the final teaching/prophetic passage of the Old Testament (Malachi 3: 1-6) God says, “Behold, I am going to send My messenger and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; but who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears…then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely…For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”

Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.”

James 1: 17 says, “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.”

Although not specifically mentioned in the ecumenical creeds, the doctrine of the immutability of God has been a part of doctrinal orthodoxy from the beginning of Christianity. Tertullian (~200 AD), in his work “Five Books Against Marcion” points out that the nature and character of God cannot change because He is outside of time. In order for something to change, it is required that some progression of time be taking place. Tertullian says, “God, moreover, is as independent of beginning and end as He is of time, which is the only arbiter and measurer of a beginning and end.” In Tertullian’s “Prescription Against Heretics” he asserts, “In all things, the truth of God is immutable.” The connection between the truth of God and the nature of God was clear and unbroken. In the minds of the Church fathers, it was not possible to assert that the truth of God was immutable but the nature of God was changeable. On the contrary, because Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life” it is necessarily the case that if the truth of God never changes, the nature of the triune God also never changes.

Augustine, in his work on the Trinity, states, “After the worlds were called into being, the Divine personality remained the same immutable and infinite self-knowledge, unaffected by anything in His handiwork.” In his commentary about Psalm 90, Augustine says, “But he very rightly does not say, ‘Thou wast from ages, and unto ages Thou shalt be’: but puts the verb in the present, intimating that the substance of God is altogether immutable.”

John Calvin, when writing about the Providence of God (Institutes, Book I, Chapter 17) states, (commenting on I Samuel 15:29 which says, “The Strength if Israel will not lie nor repent, for He is not a man that He should repent.”) “In these words His immutability is plainly asserted without figure.” From Tertullian to Augustine to Calvin, the doctrine of the immutability of God was so fundamental to orthodoxy that no one even dared to challenge it.

So strong was the belief in the immutability of God that it is difficult to find any organized group of heretics who were willing to take the position that God had changed His nature between the two testaments. It is fair to say that until the advent of the modern “That’s Old Testament” doctrine, there was no organized opposition to the orthodox doctrine of the immutability of God. However, there has always been a problem in the Church when dealing with the alleged differences between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. Rather than taking the position that God has changed, that problem caused one man to argue that there were two different gods, one of the Old Testament and one of the New Testament. That man was Marcion and his heresy has come to be known as Marcionism.

Evangelical Heresies: Pelagianism Part 4

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.

Bruce Almighty:

A couple of years ago Jim Carrey starred in a movie called “Bruce Almighty”. In this movie God, played by Morgan Freeman, appears to Bruce (Carrey) and gives him all of His powers for a brief period of time. At the time he bestows His powers on Bruce, he warns him that the one limiting factor in the use of the powers of deity is that the sovereign free will of each human individual must never be overruled. Bruce is intoxicated with his new powers of omnipotence and omniscience and he uses them in several comedic sketches. Perplexing to Bruce, however, is the fact that even with the powers of God he cannot make his girlfriend love him. He becomes increasingly frustrated with his inability to overrule her free will and the climax of the movie occurs in a scene between Bruce and God wherein Bruce says, “How can I make her love me without destroying her free will?” God responds, “Welcome to My world.”

Bruce Almighty is an excellent synopsis of Evangelicalism. In both we find a god who is little more than a frustrated lover who wants to give good things to the object of his affection but is unable to do so because of the sovereign free will of the lover. He sends her gifts of candy and flowers, but if she isn’t interested, there is little that god can do. As a result, Evangelicalism becomes little more than begging or cheerleading.

The begging components of Evangelicalism are clearly seen in the use of Revelation 3:20 which says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Jesus is depicted as a jilted lover, pathetically waiting outside the door like some sort of ancient Cyrano, pleading with the all powerful human being to allow Him access so His life could somehow experience fulfillment though mystical union with the sovereign human. This kind of begging despises the nature and character of God and is a gross insult to His nature. We should repent of it immediately.

Always ignored in the Revelation 3 passage is the fact that verse 20 is in the context of the judgment of the church at Laodicea. This church, in any eerily similar fashion to the evangelical Church in America, is guilty of saying “‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’, and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (vs. 17). When Jesus tells this church that He is standing at the door it is in the context of judgment. Indeed, He is standing at the door. But He is not begging for access to the room. He is demanding the repentance of His subjects.

Who is Sovereign?

God claims to be sovereign (consult the verses listed above as well as about 150 Psalms for biblical evidence of this claim) over the will of man. In Pelagianism, man claims to be sovereign over his own will. Both cannot be correct. Each man has a will. Either man is sovereign over his own will or God is. (I am excluding the philosophical possibility, not considered by the Pelagians, that men can be sovereign over the will of other men.)

Francis Schaeffer recognized the problem of the conflict of sovereign will in many of the books that he wrote. Most of his writings, at one point of another, brought up the issue of what he like to call “freedom”. In his examples, if there is any “freedom” in the system of the universe, it will eventually destroy the claims to sovereignty on the part of God. This “freedom” that is to be found in the universe is, of course, found in the free will of each individual human. Schaeffer consistently argued that it is not possible to grant this freedom of the will to humans without destroying the omnipotent character of God.

The philosophical reality is that if man’s will is free, then men are sovereign since God is relegated to the necessity of reacting to what men choose to do. Even the gross and absurd notion that God can somehow look into the future and see what actions a man is going to perform falls apart. First, if man’s will is truly free, there is no future to look into. I fear our love of science fiction has deluded our thinking on this point. The “future” can only exist in the “present” if a sovereign agent has decreed that things will be the way they will be. That requires not only omniscience but omnipotence as well. Only God can “see the future” and then only when He is the one who is creating it. If man’s will is free and man is not omnipotent (which all Pelagians acknowledge) then it is logically impossible to see into the future because it does not exist until man exercises his free will to create it. And then, of course, the future has become the present.

Secondly, if follows from the premise that man has free will that God is forced to react to the things that man decides to do. God, in essence, has to wait to see what the free will of man will create and then He has to quickly react to it in some way, also without infringing upon the free will of man. The reality is that man has become sovereign and God is relegated to reacting to man in a futile attempt (in most cases) to get them to love Him so He can feel good about himself. Talk about a pitiful god created in the image of a pitiful man.

If the Pelagians are Right, Then:

If man is endowed with free will and God will not (or cannot) violate that free will, then men are sovereign and God is not. If the Pelagians are correct, then several things necessarily follow.

First, there is no point or reason to pray to God. Let’s face it; most of our prayers assume that God is sovereign. How often have you heard a prayer like this, “God, please help Uncle Joe stop drinking, even though I acknowledge that you will not violate his free will decision to drink.” or “God, please remove this cancerous tumor from my body, although I acknowledge that you will not violate the free will of nature and my body to influence this tumor.” or “Please help my son make a decision to follow you, even though I acknowledge that you will not infringe upon his free will in any way”. These prayers are ridiculous and we all know it. Listen to the prayers of all Pelagians and tell me if they do not betray their doctrine. All Pelagians pray like Augustinians. They have to. If they don’t adopt Augustinian presuppositions there is no point in praying and they know it. This creates a massive spiritual schizophrenia in the minds of thoughtful Pelagians (very few in number, thanks to pietism).

Second there is no “problem of evil”. The problem of evil is often spoken of as the greatest argument against the belief in God. Simply put, it says If God is all good and all-powerful, why does evil exist? Since evil exists, then God is either not all good or all-powerful. There is no problem for the Pelagian since he readily admits that God is not all-powerful. Evil exists, according to the Pelagian, because God allows both man and nature to exercise free will. When God allows both man and nature to roll the dice, bad things will sometimes happen. (Lest you think I am exaggerating here, reconsider the responses of noted evangelicals to the tsunami disaster this past year. How many of them resorted to the “free will of nature argument” to defend their position that God was not the author of the tsunami?)

Third, the Pelagian love for expressing anger at God must stop. Pelagian Evangelicals love to counsel people to express anger at God when things are not going well (according to their own self-perception) in their lives. The flock is told that it is OK to climb up into “Daddy’s lap” and “tell Him that you are angry” since “He is big enough to take it”. This abominable advice should be stopped because it is heresy and destroys the nature and character of God. However, for the Pelagian, it should stop because there is no reason for a believer to be angry with God. How can God be held responsible for the bad things that are happening in my life when He is not sovereign and my will is free? The person the believer in free will should be yelling at is himself. If his will is free and he is sovereign over his own life then life’s mistakes and hurts are entirely all of his own making. Yelling at God in the face of life’s hardships is akin to kicking the dog after a hard day at work; it feels good but it doesn’t accomplish much.

Last, and definitely the most frightening, is that if the believer in free will dies at the “wrong” time, he goes to Hell. A Pelagian must not die while he is in a state of sin, or he goes to Hell. Pelagians need to be in a constant state of confession of sin to make sure that they do not die with an unconfessed sin that will cost them their eternal salvation. Of course, the other option for a Pelagian is to confess that he has attained perfection and no longer sins. In this case perpetual confession is not required and heaven is assured.

Pelagianism is Heresy:

The Pelagian/Arminian positions on the doctrines of grace have never been considered to be the orthodox positions of the Christian Church. Their position as the dominant view of American Evangelicalism is a default position brought about by extreme ignorance and pietism. The fact that modern Pelagians persecute proponents of the old Orthodoxy is sufficient evidence to declare them to be apostate. Any Pelagian who refuses to recant his position after being exposed to the truths of historic orthodox theology with respect to the will of man must be declared to be a heretic. These two conditions lead me to the conclusion that most of what passes for Christianity in Evangelicalism today is both apostate and heretical. We need to repent.

Evangelical Heresies: Pelagianism Part 3

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.

The Five Points of Calvinism:

As mentioned earlier, the five points of Arminianism were recognized by all as a departure from orthodoxy. Furthermore, it was also recognized by many orthodox theologians that this “new” series of doctrines from Arminius were really nothing more than a reworked version of the Pelagian heresy. Nevertheless, the leaders of the Church at the time decided to meet together to prepare a written response to the teachings of Arminius. That document (Against the Remonstrants) followed the same pattern as established by the Arminians and has come to be known as the five points of Calvinism. It is worth examining the five points of orthodox theology that Arminius sought to change.

1. Total Depravity.

The Pelagian heresy had been largely stamped out of the Church for hundreds of years since the excommunication of Pelagius. It is a curiosity that this new version of Pelagianism not only was not stamped out of the Church, but has come to be the new orthodoxy. No Church council met and declared that the previous orthodoxy was in error and that Arminianism was correct. Indeed, Arminians were subjected to great persecution (sometimes to the point of torture and death) by the orthodox Church. Why would this be?

I suggest that the reason Arminius succeeded where Pelagius failed was due to the impact of the Protestant Reformation on the Church. The Reformation had re-introduced the doctrine of the “right of private interpretation.” According to this doctrine, believers had the right to read and study the Bible and come to their own conclusions about what it said. During most of the period previous to the Reformation the Church of Rome had taught that only the priests had the right to interpret the Bible. The impact of this doctrine was such that few people were willing to jeopardize their immortal souls by reading and interpreting the Bible for themselves.

Sadly, once the common people were freed from this erroneous doctrine of Rome, the new liberty with respect to private interpretation resulted in a dramatic factionalizing within the Church. The Roman Church had correctly predicted that one of the main results of the Reformation would be factionalism. This lack of unity among the Protestants was a fertile soil in which the seeds of heresy could be sown. With little or no ability to exercise disciplinary control over the numerous factions that immediately sprung up, the Church resorted to little more than brute force (through persecution) as the primary means to attempt to attain doctrinal orthodoxy and biblical unity. As if often the case, the application of brute force had the exact opposite result. The more persecution the new heretical sects experience, the more they grew. That brings us down to today. The overwhelming majority of professing Christians today would call themselves Arminians (although they would actually have to be known as Pelagians, if we are to be accurate). The doctrine of the free will of man has become the new orthodoxy.

Ephesians 2:1 says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Does this mean that the Ephesians were physically dead? Hardly, otherwise Paul would not have been writing to them. What does Paul mean when he describes them as dead? Orthodox theologians throughout most of the history of the Church interpreted the deadness of the Ephesians as a reference to their spiritual ability, or more accurately, their spiritual inability. The Ephesians, according to Paul, were radically unable to do anything spiritually good; and that included the good deed of exercising their wills in acts of repentance and faith. This doctrine is often known as total depravity.

Under the corollaries of the doctrine of total depravity it is acknowledged that man is not as bad as he could be. However, he is sufficiently bad as to be rendered unable to do anything good, even though he does not do all the bad things he can do. Furthermore, his depravity extends to all parts of his being including his mind, emotions, and will. A man in this condition of total depravity is utterly incapable of responding to the commandment of God to repent and be saved. As theologian John Gerstner used to say, “How much can a dead man do?”

Romans 5: 12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned–” Romans 5: 18a says, “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men…” These verses, along with many others, establish the truth of the doctrine of original sin. Man, from the moment of conception, is born into sin, utterly unable to do anything but sin, and utterly incapable of doing any good. As a result all men die and, after death, receive the just punishment of eternal damnation since “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23a).

2. Unconditional Election.

If the Pelagian/Arminian position on election is true and God looks into the future to see who is going to make a decision for Him, who does He see turning to Him? The answer, it should be clear, is nobody. Man is totally incapable of making a decision to follow the commandments of God. Man is unable to make any decision to repent or exercise faith towards God. If God does look down the corridors of future time He would see nothing but men who live their physical lives with spiritual deadness that renders them incapable of believing in Him.

Jesus, in His farewell discourse to His disciples on the day before He was crucified said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit (John 15:16). Later, in His priestly prayer, Jesus says, “I manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world; Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me, and they have kept Thy word.” Jesus came to earth to save His elect people. His unconditional election was without reference to any present or future good deed on the part of the redeemed individual. Romans 9: 11 says, “for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls…” I do not know how it could be anymore clear that God is the one who chooses who will be saved and who will be condemned. The position of the orthodox Church for hundreds of years is still true. God’s election is unconditional and without reference to the actions of man.

3. Limited Atonement.

Although the death of Jesus was sufficient to appease the wrath of God the Father for the sins of all mankind, it does not follow that his propitiatory sacrifice extends to cover all the sins of every individual human being. Romans 5: 6-10 describes the sacrifice for Christ on behalf of His people. At no point in the Bible does God ever describe the blood of His Son as being spilled inefficaciously on behalf of those whom He has not chosen. Quite the contrary, Jesus prays (in the priestly prayer cited above) that He had accomplished all the work that the Father had sent Him to accomplish. Just prior to breathing His last breath on the cross He says, “It is finished”. Jesus completed the work He had been given. All of His people were saved. His blood was spilled to cover the sins of His people, and no one else. Not one drop of blood was spilled on behalf of the reprobate. Although this sounds terribly harsh in the ears of Evangelicals today, this was the position of the orthodox Church for hundreds of years and it has never been officially overturned.

4. Irresistible Grace.

The ninth chapter of Romans is the single most important chapter in the Bible when it comes to establishing the doctrines of the grace of God towards His people. Sadly, the modern Church almost universally ignores this chapter. Things have degenerated to the point where anybody who dares to cite this chapter is considered to be somehow “unorthodox” in their theology. Indeed, members of my own church have been accused of abusing the chapter merely because they cite it in support of what it clearly says!

If the Orthodox/Augustinian doctrine of the sinful bondage of the human will is true, then, according to Pelagians, certain incomprehensible things follow from that doctrine. First, say the Pelagians, if man does not have free will and God chooses men without any reference to future good deeds or faith that makes God capricious and His choices totally unfair. It is only fair if all men have the ability to make a decision for God, according to the Pelagians.

Second, Pelagians insist that if the Orthodox doctrine of the bondage of the will is true, then men have no moral culpability for their sins. Certainly men cannot be held morally accountable for behaviors that they perform in the absence of their own sovereign free wills! No, if the Augustinians are correct, God is being unfair for holding men morally accountable for their inability to do anything other than what he has decreed for them to do.

The reason Romans 9 is routinely ignored by modern believers is because it precisely refutes the arguments of the Pelagians. Paul begins by stating that God’s election of His people is without reference to any future deeds on the part of the people (vs. 11). Then he goes further and states that when God makes a decision to choose one person He also makes the decision to condemn another. Verse 13 says, “Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'”. All Evangelicals universally ignore this verse because they begin with the unbiblical presupposition that God does not hate anybody. Therefore, since this verse says that He does hate somebody it either must mean something else (bad exegesis) or simply not apply to the modern era (Marcionite heresy, to be discussed later).

Although the verses stand alone as a powerful argument in favor the Orthodox doctrines of grace, what follows is almost always ignored and, if possible, even more powerfully in support of the Orthodox position. Paul goes on to raise two possible objections to the doctrine that he is teaching. Those two objections are: 1) If what Paul is saying is true, God is being unjust and unfair in selecting some and not selecting others for salvation; and, 2) If what Paul is saying is true, God has no right to hold a man morally accountable since no man is able to resist His will. Notice that the two arguments presented by Paul in opposition to his teaching on this doctrine are the exact same two arguments presented by the Pelagians. Why does it almost never occur to anybody that Paul must be teaching the same thing that the Pelagians so strongly despise when the objections to the positions are exactly the same?

Perhaps more importantly is the answer Paul gives to each of the two Pelagian objections. To the first objection that God is being unfair in electing some for salvation and ignoring others he says, “There is no injustice with God…. He has mercy on whom He desires and He hardens whom He desires” (vs. 14 and 18). To the second objection he says, “Who are you, o man, who answers back to God. The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this’, will it?” Notice that the two answers given by Paul are the exact same answers given to the Pelagians by the Orthodox that they so despise to hear.

God’s grace, despite the ravings of the Pelagians, is irresistible. Those whom He causes to be born again will hear His words and follow Him. There is no stopping it because God is the author of it. Conversely, those whom God leaves in their sin will never respond to Him and will pay the price of eternal damnation for their inability to do so. These questions and answers infuriate the Pelagian, but they are exactly what Paul is describing in Romans 9.

5. Perseverance of the Saints.

Unlike the Pelagians, who go in and out of salvation thousands of times during a typical lifetime, the Orthodox doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints clearly states that once an elect believer is regenerated and responds to the Gospel with repentance and faith, he will persevere to the end of his physical life. It only makes sense that since God is both the author and the finisher of our faith, He would be successful in accomplishing what He set out to accomplish.

John 10: 27-29 says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

Evangelical Heresies: Pelagianism Part 2

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.

The Five Points of Arminianism:

1. Partial Depravity. Unlike the Pelagians, the Arminians want to accept the doctrine of original sin. Belief in the doctrine of original sin has many logical implications. One implication is found in the doctrine of the depravity of man. What is the extent of the sinfulness of the newborn man? The Pelagian asserts that man is born with original righteousness and, therefore, has no sinfulness at the moment of birth. All sinfulness comes later as a result of contact with a sinful world and voluntary choices to commit sin. The Arminian asserts that man is born with original sin and is therefore sinful at birth. However, this original sinfulness does not extend so far into the human being as to make it impossible for him to do good. For the Arminian, two very important things take place that counteract the effects of original sin.

First, all humans are infused with the grace of assistance that allows them to resist the temptation to sin and perform deeds of actual righteousness (there is not a tremendous amount of clarity in the writings of Arminians about when this infusion of enabling grace takes place). Of course, at an early stage in the development of an individual, it is impossible to speak of performing deeds that are either sinful or righteous. The importance of the grace of assistance is that it guarantees that each person will have the ability to make a decision to “accept Christ” at some point in his lifetime. Indeed, even the person who does not exercise his newly liberated will to make the decision to “accept Christ” is still capable of doing good deeds because of the power of enabling grace.

Second, the consequences for sinful behavior are not applied to the individual until he attains the “age of accountability”. Different Arminian theologians have different ages when accountability comes into play but all Arminians agree that the guilt for the sins committed due to the effects of partial depravity are not imputed to the individual until that age is attained. This guarantees that all children who die prior to their age of accountability go to heaven. This doctrine is very important to the Arminian because he is unable to conceive of a God who would condemn an infant to damnation when that infant was sinning because of original sin and not because of a conscious choice to sin. Just as a good deed performed as an automaton has no moral value, a bad deed performed as a result of slavery to sin also has no immoral value. The morality or immorality of an act only comes into existence when a free moral agent is introduced into the equation. Most importantly, man is not a free moral agent until he
reaches the age of accountability, therefore, man can do neither good nor evil until the age is attained.

A strangely ironic reality comes into existence when the doctrine of the age of accountability is believed. Since the guilt of sin is not imputed to the child who has not attained the mystical age of accountability, there is no punishment for sins committed during that time. This allows the Arminian to proudly and confidently proclaim that all children who die prior to reaching that age are ensured of attaining the heavenly state. However, once the age of accountability is attained, the guilt of sin is attached to the person and there no longer remains the assurance of heaven if he dies, especially if he dies prior to making a personal decision to accept Christ. The bitter irony of this whole affair is that the Arminian should actually rejoice over abortion. Every child that is aborted is guaranteed heaven. Every child that is not aborted has the ability to lose his salvation once he reaches the age of accountability. Given the choice between the guarantee of heaven and the possibility of heaven, the guarantee is the superior option. Killing children prior to reaching the age of accountability guarantees heaven and, is therefore, the superior moral choice as far as their long-term spiritual condition is concerned. After all, did Jesus not say that it is better to lose everything in this life for the sake of heaven?

Under the doctrine of partial depravity, men are born with the ability to do nothing but sin (original sin). However, men are infused with enabling grace that also gives them the ability to do good once they have attained the age of accountability. Just like under Pelagianism, a man is able to do good to the point where he overcomes the effects of partial depravity entirely and becomes perfect. Of course, this only happens rarely and only to those who have made the decision to “accept Christ into their hearts”.

2. Conditional Election. Election is the doctrine that has to do with how God chooses those who are saved from their sins and adopted into His Kingdom. Since Arminians do not believe that any human action has either moral or immoral value in the absence of human free will, it is vitally important that the free will of the individual not be violated with respect to his eternal salvation. To say that God chooses somebody for salvation can be dangerously close to the prohibited concept that God might force somebody to do something against his own will. Arminians strongly assert that God never violates the principle of the absolute sanctity of the free will of man. How then does God choose His elect?

Since God is outside of time and space, as we know it, He is able to “see” things that we can’t see. In fact, the whole of human history is laid out before His eyes at all times. The omniscience of God is very important for the Arminian. God knows all things and because He knows all things He also knows who, from the entire mass of humanity, is going to make the decision to “accept Christ” and become a true believer. Therefore, God’s conditional election is the simple fact that He looks down the road of human history and puts His stamp of approval upon the free moral acts of those who are going to make the decision to become Christians. God chooses those whom He foresees choosing Him.

3. Unlimited Atonement. Who did Jesus die for? After reading many passages in the Bible in which it is clearly stated that Jesus died for all men, Arminius was driven to the conclusion that orthodox Christianity was in error when it denied what seemed so obvious to him. The atonement purchased by the blood of Jesus is available without limit to all mankind, according to Arminius. Every single human being who has ever lived, or ever will live, has had his sins covered by the blood of Christ and can be saved if he will only exercise his sovereign free will and make the decision to “accept Christ” and be saved from his sins.

4. Resistible Grace. Contrary to the orthodox doctrine of the time, Arminius asserted that since man’s will is free it is a logical necessity that any individual man has the capability to resist the grace of God extended to him by the Holy Spirit. Just like with the doctrine of the unlimited atonement, Arminius found many passages in the Bible that speak about the ability of man to squelch the Spirit of God. Why would the Bible record these things if, indeed, they could not happen? Arminius concluded that the grace of God could be resisted by the sovereign free will of man. Furthermore, God will never overrule the free will of man since that would make the decision of an individual to “accept Christ” of no moral value. Resisting the grace of God is not a good thing for a man to do, but it is superior to God overruling the will of man.

5. Insecurity of the Saints. Arminius found the orthodox doctrine of “once saved, always saved” to be reprehensible. As he examined the society in which he lived he concluded that this odious doctrine was responsible for the profligate lives of many people who professed to be Christians and lived like the devil. How could it possibly be the case that a person can claimed to be saved eternally when the decision to be saved was made by a man exercising his free will? Is it not possible to exercise free will to become un-saved? Arminius believed that it was.

Once the age of accountability has been reached, a person needs to “accept Christ” in order to be saved. (Prior to the age of accountability all are saved and there is no need to make the decision.) Once Christ has been accepted, it is necessary for that person to have perfect obedience to the moral law of God in order to confirm his salvation. The decision to exercise his free will to commit a sin results in a repudiation of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and brings about a change of status in which the individual has now lost his salvation. In order to restore the state of salvation it is necessary for repentance to take place.

Arminian theologians are quite clear that an individual Christian can go through the cycle of saved/unsaved thousands of times during a lifetime. The cycle is quite simple. Commit sin…. lose salvation. Repent of sin…gain salvation. Repeat. The prayer of dedicated Arminians is that they will find themselves in a state of salvation at the exact moment of their death. Although the average layman Arminian does not know or think about these things, the Arminian theologians are tormented by the prospect of a person living most of his life as a honest believer only to lose his salvation at the very last moment.

This torment has driven many Arminians to the doctrine of perfectionism. Under the beliefs of perfectionism, it is possible for a believer, through the rigorous assertion of his sanctified free will, to never engage in a sinful act or thought again. At the point perfection is attained that person is assured of eternal salvation. It is not entirely clear if that state of perfection can be lost by the commission of a sin in the future (and thus restart the cycle of saved/unsaved), or if it is even possible for a person in the state of perfection to sin again. In any case, this doctrine tends to be less developed and is really more of a reaction against the orthodox doctrine of eternal security as described by the Calvinists.

Evangelical Heresies: Pelagianism Part 1

This is part of a series of posts on Evangelical Heresies. Click here to see the entire series.

In 417 AD, a British monk by the name of Pelagius wrote a treatise entitled “In Defense of Free Will”. It probably comes as a surprise to most Evangelicals that an argument would need to be made in defense of the doctrine of the free will of man. It probably comes as even more of a surprise to learn that shortly after writing his essay defending free will, Pelagius was excommunicated as a heretic from the orthodox Church specifically because of what he wrote. It probably comes as an extreme surprise that the doctrines of Pelagius with respect to the freedom of the human will are what dominate Evangelical thinking today.

The Pelagian Argument:

Most pietistic evangelicals would be completely comfortable reading the writings of Pelagius primarily because they contain essentially the same arguments used today to establish what is considered to be the “orthodox” doctrine of the free will of man. Pelagius began with the problem that so troubles today’s evangelical; how can man render service to God that is of any value if it is not freely rendered? In other words, if man does not have free will his service to God is necessarily the service of an automaton and, therefore, of no moral value. After all, does God not want the freely offered love and obedience of His children rather than some type of relationship in which some type of affection is forcibly extracted from a robot?

Pelagius began by defining grace as “the primal endowment of man with free will to obey the Law.” This should sound very familiar, since there is scarcely a believer alive today who does not believe it. Of course, if man has free will and if man is commanded to respond to God in love with faith, it is necessarily the case that man must be able to do so. As a result, Pelagius decreed that the doctrine of original sin was erroneous. He realized that if the doctrine of original sin were correct, man would not be able to exercise his free will to turn to God. Therefore, according to Pelagius, man is endowed with original innocence. In this way his ability to exercise his free will and respond to God is preserved. God does not force a man to be saved. A man is saved when he exercises his free will and turns to God in faith. Sin exists, but it is not strong enough to keep a man from exercising his free will to do good deeds.

Although I suspect some evangelicals would not agree, Pelagius then went on to point out that if man is created with original innocence and endowed with free will, then it is possible that a man could have the ability to become sanctified to the point where he would not sin. The doctrine of Perfectionism was born with Pelagius. This teaching was later developed in greater detail by the Arminians who were not the least bit embarrassed to assert the possibility of moral perfection on the part of an individual believer in this life. Of course, for Pelagius, very few people would ever be able to overcome the effects of sin and rise to the state of perfection. He did not deny that sin exists and that it has a strong negative impact upon man. Nevertheless, Pelagius was the first to categorically assert the doctrine of the free will of man. His treatise quickly circulated around the western Church and a great controversy was born.

Augustine’s Response to Pelagius:

When Augustine, a bishop in North Africa, got word of the writings of Pelagius, he wasted no time in critiquing them. The anti-Pelagian writings of Augustine today take up over 1200 pages of text. He had a great deal to say about the doctrine of free will. Sadly, pietists do not consider the writings of Augustine to be worthy of the time or energy to read. They are long, difficult, and written by a man who lived over 1500 years ago. How could Augustine possibly make the life of the average Evangelical more comfortable?

Augustine countered Pelagius by asserting that the will of man is not free. He also asserted that man is not born to original righteousness but, rather, to original sin. This original sin so enslaves the will of man as to render it impossible for any individual to respond to God in faith. No man, according to Augustine, has the ability to not sin in this life, regardless of his level of sanctification. Furthermore, Augustine argued that God is not mocking man when he demands obedience to a law that man is incapable of following, due to sin. All of this should sound somewhat familiar to the handful of pietists who have taken the time to at least discuss the doctrine of free will with people who are not like-minded to them. These are some of the doctrines that have come to be erroneously and pejoratively known as “hyper-Calvinism”.

When Pope Innocent got word of the doctrine of free will being taught by Pelagius (417), he immediately excommunicated him. In 418 a conference of 200 bishops met in Carthage specifically to discuss the doctrine of free will and the teachings of Pelagius. These bishops agreed to condemn Pelagianism as heresy. Furthermore, the Ecumenical Synod at Ephesus in 431 also agreed to condemn Pelagianism as heresy. In fact, it is impossible to find any council in the Church at this time that did not condemn the free will doctrines of Pelagius. The doctrines with respect to free will that are now known as hyper-Calvinism were established in the Church as orthodoxy from the period beginning in 417 until the next challenge to their orthodoxy took place in 1609 in Holland.


James Arminius was born in Holland in 1560. In 1609 he wrote an essay entitled “The Apology” in which he carefully took up the case of Pelagius. Arminius knew enough to not challenge the doctrine of the Church with respect to the freedom of the human will directly. He was fully aware that the doctrines of original innocence and free will as explained by Pelagius had been condemned as heresy. He did not want to be deemed a heretic. Nevertheless, he did want to believe in the doctrine of free will. He concocted an interesting solution to his problem.

(It is worth noting, as will soon be seen in the discussion below, that the modern doctrine of the freedom of the will is much closer to the Pelagian doctrine than the Arminian doctrine. The fact that Evangelicals freely describe themselves as Arminians rather than Pelagians is, I suspect, more a matter of an intense ignorance of doctrinal history than a preference for Arminius’ doctrines over Pelagius’ doctrines.)

Arminius hoped to avoid controversy by stating that he was in full agreement with the doctrine of original sin. In fact, if just that section of his essay is read, it sounds quite orthodox. However, Arminius goes on (Section 8) to postulate the existence of a “sufficient grace” which is able to overcome the effects of original sin and restore man to a state where he can exercise free will untainted by sin. Arminius argues, “sufficient grace (sometimes also called the “grace of assistance” by him) restores free will to all mankind.” Arminius does not present a logically necessary biblical argument for his doctrine of “sufficient grace”. Rather, his argument for this “grace of assistance” is logically based upon the need to establish the doctrine of the freedom of the will. In other words, Arminius thoroughly adopts the arguments of Pelagius with respect to the necessity for free will and uses them to support his concept of enabling grace.

It should be readily apparent from what has been said above that Pelagianism and Arminianism are essentially the same doctrine. The fact that Arminianism begins by professing a belief in original sin and then quickly nullifies the effects of original sin with the extra-biblical doctrine of the “grace of assistance” does not create a single difference with the free will doctrine of Pelagius. During his trials Arminius tried to dance around the direct questions that were asked of him by asserting his strong belief in the doctrine of original sin. However, his clear assertion that man can overcome original sin via an enabling grace that restores his free will put him squarely in the heretical school of Pelagius.

To defend his position before the Church councils, Arminius developed a brief summary of his position that is known as the “Five Points of Arminianism”. Few Evangelicals are aware of the historical fact that the “Five Points of Calvinism” were nothing more than a critique of the previously issued five points of Arminianism. The popular belief that the “Five Points of Calvinism” were proffered by a group of renegade theologians who were knowingly going against the established truths of orthodoxy is mistaken. In reality, the Arminians were also known as the Remonstrants. They were self consciously propagating doctrines contrary to orthodoxy. Indeed, the original five points of Calvinism were contained in a document entitled “Against the Remonstrants” and they were written from the perspective of the established orthodoxy within the Church with respect to the doctrine of free will. These heretical points are worth a detailed examination.